Sunday, November 9, 2014

Back into the Swing

Well, my friends, here we are again..  It's just like riding a bike: once you know, you always know.  This phrase is how I would describe my first few months back here in bella Roma.  I flew into good ol' Leonardo Da Vinci Airport at the beginning of September and have been chugging nicely along ever since.  I will say that my summer home in 'Merica was excellent by all accounts, and also that it FLEW by (although I kinda expected that).  As soon as I was in the taxi riding back here to the College, it all just seemed so familiar, like I hadn't really left (which, interestingly, is the same feeling I had when I arrived home back in the U.S. at the beginning of summer).  I got back to the NAC with backpack loaded and two luggage bags in tow, said hi to my good buddy Paul who lives on my hall and we remarked to each other, "Huh.  Well that just felt like one long travel weekend."  So goes the speed of time, I s'pose.

Lemme give you a rundown of some of the major things that have been / are / will be part of my third year as an ex-pat:


As you may know, our semesters here begin a month later than y'alls at home.  So September was filled with two weeks of in-house conferences and preaching practicums, followed by my yearly silent retreat, followed by the diaconate ordinations for the class ahead of me.  Along with two men ordained transitional deacons in Lansing this past May, our diocese also ordained a third man here in Rome.  It was great to see my diocesan brother Zach take the plunge, especially considering that it will be me next year!

This year is my third and final year of what's called my 'first cycle' program, which means I'll be finishing the European quasi-equivalent of my Master's degree in Theology next spring.  Then, next fall as a fourth year student, I will choose and initiate a more specialized 'second cycle' program, something like moral theology, fundamental theology, spirituality, Patristics, or Biblical theology etc.  I have a few ideas for second cycle programs, but that will all be TBD until I do a bit more research and get a thumbs up from the good bishop.

Also this year I am beginning a new apostolate.  As part of priestly formation we all participate every year in some form of out-of-house volunteer service.  Could be hospital ministry, prison ministry, evangelization on the street, working with the poor, giving tours of St. Peters etc... My apostolate in my first two years involved working with the Missionaries of Charity here in Rome (St. [Mother] Theresa of Calcutta's sisters) to feed homeless men a dinner meal once a week.  As third year students we are now exposed to more teaching/evangelizing-related apostolates.  Mine will be with the U.S. Navy base in Naples.  This is a very cool apostolate that involves seminarians traveling to Naples each weekend to minister to the Catholic community of American servicemen and servicewomen and their families stationed at our Navy base there.
Basically, we spend time with the families, eat meals with them, serve at the weekend Masses, and teach some of the CCD classes on Sunday morning.  I did my first weekend two weeks ago, and will do a few more weekends each semester.  I taught 6th grade CCD and it was awesome.  We started talking about the communion of saints, and then the conversation moved to the subjects of death, angels, and such questions as "do our pets go to heaven?" and "how old are we when we're in heaven?".  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and the kiddos were quite interested and engaged.


I found out a few weeks ago (be it the Lord's will) what will be my priestly ordination date.  It is scheduled to be at St. Mary's Cathedral in Lansing at 7:00pm on Friday, the 10th of June, 2016.  I was stoked to see something official on the diocesan calendar, it brings a different perspective when you know where the end of the tunnel is!  Please keep praying for me, or I will certainly not make it there..

More immediately, I also found out this past Thursday the tentative date of my diaconate ordination here in Rome.  This day will be ratified in the coming month or so.  It is penciled-in at St. Peter's Basilica at 9:30am on Thursday, October the One, 2015...  And by 'One' I mean 1st.  Also exciting!  Please keep praying hard for me, or I will certainly not make it to this one either..

On a related note, here in the house my class this year has started our baptism and marriage practicums, since these are sacraments that deacons can do.  How neat!  I got to baptize a baby girl doll name Mary lol.  I got water in her eye, so I apologized to her.  Thankfully she didn't cry.

I have a few more bucket list items to check off this year, and am pumped for what's in store.  The big fish will be a Christmas pilgrimage to the Holy Land!  Please keep in prayer the 30-ish of us who will be making this trip to the land where Jesus lived and died.  Everyone I've talked with who has already taken the trip says how much it changes their relationship with the Lord, and especially how it changes the way they read the Scriptures.  I am very much looking forward to spending time with God in Jerusalem and in Galilee.  At some point in the next month or so, I will be posting a Google doc of the places and/or churches we plan to visit.  Then you can take a look if you want and write your name next to a given place or church, and I will pray for you and your intentions when I'm at that place.

In October I went with my good friend Steve from Little Rock, Arkansas to visit St. Therese of Lisieux in northern France.  She is a fantastic saint to get to know.  We had a grand weekend, and were also able to make it to the American cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy (beautiful! and very peaceful), as well as a famous miniature islet called Mont Saint-Michel. Have a gander at some of the sights:

I took my week-long silent retreat in this location before the start of the school year.  Yes, it was all shades of excellent.

This here is the Basilica of St. Therese in Lisieux, France.  It's huge and beautiful.  And since we visited it within the octave of her feast day (which is, coincidentally, October the One) we also got to see her relics, which were temporarily transferred to the basilica from their usual place at the Carmel (Carmelite convent) down the street.

This is Lisieux's cathedral.  Also a big and beautiful church.  Steve and I went to Mass here in the small chapel at the way way back, behind the main altar which you see in the picture.

The cemetery for fallen WWII American military at Omaha Beach in Normandy.  9,238 headstones fill about 175 acres of land on the bluffs above the beach.

Omaha Beach.

We were walking along Omaha as a storm came through, so we made for the hills and got rained in for about 20 minutes while we hunkered down in an old German bunker.

This is Mont Saint-Michel.  During high tide it is an island!  During low tide you can walk to it on dry ground.  The huge abbey which covers the top was originally built in the 8th century, and then rebuilt in the 11th and 12th centuries, with additions and fortifications coming in the intervening centuries.  In ancient times it was known as Mont Tombe but was renamed after the Archangel Michael in 708 after he appeared in vision to St. Aubert, the bishop of Avranches.  Michael instructed the saint to build a church here on the small island, and so atop the central spire of the abbey is a gilded statue of the archangel.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday of Holy Week: The Mighty Seven Church Walk

Yeehaw!  Hey we did it!  Today's seven church pilgrimage walk was a massive success, thanks a ton for all the prayers.  Our weather today was sunny in the mid 60s with a cool breeze; it could not have been any better.  Certainly a fitting way to end Lent, and after all of it I am quite tuckered out... but after six weeks of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, here we are on the eve of the Triduum, the holiest three days of the year.  It's time for us to step back now and let God do what He does best.

In lieu of a bunch of pictures, I decided to post another video of everything.  Sorry for the length ahead of time, it's almost 9 minutes in length, but I had to fit in seven churches!  Hopefully you'll at least stay entertained with the tunes I included.  Not soundtrack music this time around, but I figured I wouldn't go wrong with a little O.A.R. and some Mumford and Sons.  So here you have it, the Lenten seven church pilgrimage of Rome:

A final and big thank you again for all your prayers over the Lenten season.  I said at the beginning I would need them to persevere in my resolutions, and -- would you look at that -- I almost can't believe that I actually wrote on my blog five days a week for the past month and a half, and made it to every weekday station church liturgy.  Well except once, but I get a pass on that because there was a papal audience going on.  But the point is this: over the past six weeks we all just witnessed prayer make the impossible happen.  And for that you have my gratitude.  God is good.

So I'm signing off now for a bit to spend the next 10 or so days resting, praying, and witnessing the glory of saving grace.  Thursday evening we watch and pray, Friday we weep, Saturday we wait, and Sunday I pray we rejoice with all our might.  Come Lord Jesus and save us...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Tuesday of Holy Week: Santa Prisca

We are so close now!  Today is the last day of the normal station churches.  Tomorrow we cowboy up for a 14-mile walk to Rome's 'big seven' in prep for the Easter Triduum.  I will be offering the day's journey for your prayer intentions, so be sure to bring something to mind tomorrow morning when you think of it -- I'll be currently en route!

Santa Prisca

Today's final station, fittingly it seems, is just down the street from our first station, Santa Sabina, which we saw nearly six weeks ago on Ash Wednesday.  The St. Prisca whose name adorns this church is the Prisca of Paul's time (sometimes also called by the name Priscilla); she and her husband Aquila are mentioned several times in the NT because of the help they rendered to Paul on his missionary journeys (Acts 18:2; Rm 16:3; 1 Cor 16:19; 2 Tim 4:19).

This church's structure, particularly on the sanctuary end of it, incorporates some ancient Roman structures dating as far back as the second century after Christ.  The first mention of a titulis church here comes from the fifth century, by which time it already bore the name of Prisca, but we don't know much else about its development in the first millennium.  In 1104 Bishop Walo of Paris sponsored the building of a larger structure to replace the original church, and in 1455 Pope Callistus III repaired this church after a fire necessitated the replacement of an entire wall.  The current facade was built in the early 1600s, and the interior was renovated a century later in the contemporary style of the day.

Excavations done in 1938 beneath the church revealed that it was built over a second century Mithraic temple.  This was not an uncommon practice in the ancient Church, as a sign of Christ's victory over the pagans gods who could not save.  We saw another example of this in the basilica of St. Clement, which also sits over a Mithraic temple.
Before I finish, let me post a final map of the station churches we've seen over of the course of our Lenten journey.  The dark green lines are the ancient Aurelian walls of Rome built between 271 and 275 AD to protect the city.  The dark blue X marker toward the upper left is the North American College.  The dark gray lines are the walking routes which lead to the light blue markers, churches we've seen.  The medium blue markers are the weekend station churches I did not see during Lent, and the bright red markers with the crimson red lines are the seven basilicas and walking route I'll be taking tomorrow.

The route starts at the NAC and goes due east to Santa Maria Maggiore, then further east up to St. Lawrence Outside the Walls, then south to Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, with a jaunt west to St. John Lateran.  Then we go south to St. Sebastian (way) Outside the Walls, west to St. Paul Outside the Walls, then north and northwest along the Tiber river up to St. Peter's, where we will finish.  A good walk; please pray for me and for everyone who will be making the pilgrimage tomorrow!


Monday, April 14, 2014

Monday of Holy Week: Santa Prassede

Welcome to Holy Week!  We are in the most exciting liturgical week of the year..  and I'll tell you what, I am sure ready for Resurrection Sunday.  These Lenten station churches have been the best prep for Easter that I've ever done; I hope they have been as rewarding for you as they have for me!  Like I wrote on Friday, I'll be updating you today and tomorrow, and finishing Wednesday with the Seven Church walk, and then I'll be off the blog for the Triduum celebrations and for Easter week when I go on retreat to Ars.

Santa Prassede
You would almost surely miss this church if you weren't looking for it, and you might very well miss it even if you were looking for it but didn't know what to expect.  From what I was able to see, the outer walls of this church seem to be encased by apartments or a religious house or something, because it is almost completely camouflaged next to the other buildings around it.  The entrance to St. Praxedes is from the side of the church on a nondescript wall and, besides a title sign, the lintel isn't exactly the most flashy, church-y architecture you've ever seen.  The facade retains an arch over the door, which is gated and inaccessible, but otherwise the rest of it looks like an apartment building from the front.
But when you walk inside the whole thing seems to open right up.  I was surprised by the size of it judging from the outside.  Rome still has a few tricks up her sleeve, I guess...  Well St. Praxedes is traditionally held to be the sister of St. Pudenziana, and together the two of them used to gather the mortal remains of the Christian martyrs.  We know that a church in her honor has existed at least from the late fifth century.  It was located in a nearby apartment block, but in the ninth century Pope Paschal I replaced it with this current church in order to provide a better place of worship.

Continuing the devotion of the patroness Praxedes, Paschal brought the relics of some 2,300 martyrs from the catacombs around Rome to be laid to rest here.  The three large arches in the nave were added in the fourteenth century to mitigate some of the building's structural problems due to age, and Pope Nicholas IV undertook a major renovation the following century.

St. Charles Borromeo, who is the patron saint of seminarians, was the titular cardinal of this church in the sixteenth century; his successor, Cardinal Alessandro Medici, later become Pope Leo XI and commissioned all the frescoes on the walls which you can see below.

One of the chapels along the right wall, dedicated to St. Zeno, was built by Paschal as a place of rest for his mother Theodora, and its mosaic wall art is arguably one of the most stunning works of the medieval period to be found in Rome.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Friday of Fifth Week: Santo Stefano in Monte Celio

IT IS HERE.  Well, for me anyways... Easter break is here!  During Holy Week and Easter Week all the universities in Rome are closed.  So we have a bit of space now to lay low, rest, and pray.  When we go back to class in two weeks it's going to be a mad dash all the way to June 13 when I step foot on that Delta flight headed for America.  I can't wait for that day, but I also can't wait to chill out in this holy time and recharge the tanks.  Next week we will have station churches on Monday and Tuesday and then will finish off our journey together with Wednesday's Seven Church walk.

The Seven Church walk was made popular by St. Philip Neri (+1595) as a preparation for the principal Christian feasts of the year (Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost) and consists in making a pilgrimage to all of Rome's major churches in the same day.  The Holy Week walk in particular has remained popular due to its easy association with Lenten sacrifice and as a way to walk the difficult road with Jesus carrying his Cross.

Our Wednesday will begin with 7am Mass at the day's station, Santa Maria Maggiore (which we've already seen), and continues on a walking journey to the four major basilicas (Maria Maggiore, John Lateran, Peter, Paul Outside the Walls) and three minor basilicas (Lawrence Outside the Walls, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, Sebastian Outside the Walls).  The whole thing takes about half a day, so we should finish at St. Peter's sometime in the late afternoon.

In the meantime, let's talk a bit about today's church:

Santo Stephano in Monte Celio

Walking into St. Stephen on the Caelian Hill, you'll see what makes it immediately unique: this church was built in the round; in fact it is one of three remaining ancient round churches in Rome.  The vast majority of Christian churches are built as a long nave and sanctuary, or otherwise in the shape of a cross.

The church takes its name from St. Stephen (whose relics remain in Jerusalem), the first Christian martyr who is mentioned in the seventh chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.  It was built on the site of an old Roman military camp during the pontificate of Pope Simplicius I (+483), then was subsequently restored in the eighth century, again in the twelfth century, and again in the fifteenth century by Pope Nicholas V (+1455).  In the following century Pope Gregory XIII (+1585) commissioned all the frescoes around the entire outer wall which depict the variety of martyrdoms suffered by the early saints of Rome (appropriate for a church dedicated to our proto-martyr).  Gregory also constructed the octagonal chancel screen that now surrounds the central altar.
I also swung by yesterday's station church, Sant' Apollinare, on my way home from school.  St. Apollinaris was a martyr and founding bishop of Ravenna, an ancient city about 200 miles north of Rome on the eastern coast of Italy.  His church in Rome is quite beautiful, and also happens to be the university chapel of Santa Croce, which is one of the three universities we at the NAC attend for our theology studies (along with my school, the Gregorian, and the University of Thomas Aquinas, also called the Angelicum).  Take a look, and enjoy the weekend!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Thursday of Fifth Week: Papal Audience?

Well today's station church post is not in fact about a station church, because I did not attend the stational Mass this morning.  Instead today was a special day off of class for all the students and faculty who attend the Pontifical Gregorian University (which included me -- the Greg is where I go to school in the city to take my theology classes).  In place of classes, we had an audience with the Holy Father in the Paul VI Audience Hall, which is located just south of St. Peter's basilica.

Sweet!  Also present at this audience were the students and faculty from the Pontifical Biblical Institute (the Biblicum) and the Pontifical Oriental Institute.  These three institutions were grouped together in a Consortium by Pope Pius XI in 1928 and are all Jesuit-owned-and-operated; which helps because Pope Francis himself is a Jesuit.

We all packed in to welcome Francis, whose purpose was to exhort us about the purpose of theological study and the unique opportunity of working and studying at the heart of the Church in Rome.  The things that I took away most from his speech were the pointed references he made to study and prayer.  The pope said--like many have said before him--that theological study is only fruitful when done with a mind open to God on one's knees.  And that's a simple truth that always bears reminding.  Theology is ultimately not the study of an inert thing which we put under a microscope, but of a personal divine Being who we encounter.  And real knowledge of any personal being--whether human, angelic, or divine--only ever comes by way of relationship. 

So there you have it.  If we wanna be knowledgeable in the ways of God, if we wanna know who He is and what He's up to these days, we simply gotta spend some time with Him.  It's great timing to hear this as we're about to enter Passiontide, the holiest week of our entire year!  Let's get ready.

If I can manage it, I'll catch us up tomorrow at least with a few pictures of the Thursday church; it's basically on the walk to school.  If not, then I'll just continue like normal and proceed with the Friday church tomorrow.
Looking toward the back of the hall as everyone is streaming in
Not a horrible view, I'd say!
I took this shot on super digital zoom, so not totally clear, but hey it's still the pope.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wednesday of Fifth Week: San Marcello

Today's stational church takes us, happily, across the street and north about 30 yards from yesterday's church.  Which is really funny because for the life of me I have never noticed that a church was there.  Although in my defense it is set back from the road somewhat and blocked from view by the building to its right, so I never see it on my walk to school.  But I guess you learn new things about your city every day!

San Marcello

The church of San Marcello is named after Pope Marcellus, the 30th in the line of St. Peter who shepherded the Church between 308 and 309.  These were the years which immediately preceded the legalization of Christianity, and so there were questions about how to treat those who apostatized from the faith in order to avoid persecution.  Many apostates banded together and insisted that they be able to re-enter the Church without performing the prescribed penance for their guilt.  The pope said, that's a no-no, you'll need to truly amend your lives and do penance like everyone else.  So the leader of the group, Maxentius, had the pope arrested and sent into exile.  He died shortly thereafter and his remains were brought back to Rome.

A church on this site was first built in the late fourth and early fifth centuries as part of a program to replace house churches with larger structures.  A fifth century baptismal font was also built onsite sometime soon after, which is significant because the ordinary place of baptism at this time would have been the Lateran basilica.  So we know this church was of some importance very early on.  Pope Adrian I undertook renovations in the eighth century, but the church was demolished in the twelfth century to build a new one.

In 1519 this church was almost completely destroyed by fire with the notable exception of a life-size wooden crucifix, which has been especially venerated ever since.  It was this crucifix which was processed through the city of Rome before the opening of the Second Vatican Council and also before the opening of the Great Jubilee year of 2000.  The burned church underwent reconstruction for the next 70 years, during which time its orientation was reversed so that the entrance faced the Via del Corso.  The end of the 1600s saw some final modifications, including the facade designed by Carlo Fontana, and another restoration in the 1860s brings us to its current appearance.
Besides St. Marcellus, there are relics of several other saints in here as well, including Ss. Degna and Merita, John, Blaise, Diogenes, and Longinus, Cosmas, Damien, and Felicity and her children.  The chapel with the fifteenth century crucifix is in that side chapel on the right, second from the front; a reliquary in this chapel also contains a fragment of the True Cross.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Tuesday of Fifth Week: Santa Maria in Via Lata

Today we visited Santa Maria in Via Lata, which besides being a beautiful church is also quite a convenient one, as it is directly on the route of my daily walk to school.  Nice!  Not very large, though, so with standing room only we were packed in like sardines.

Santa Maria in Via Lata

This church is located right on the Via del Corso, which is one of the mainest of main roads in Rome.  Back in the day it used to be called the Via Lata ("wide street") because it was one of the largest in the city and terminated at the city center; for this reason it has some interesting history.  Caesar rode the Via Lata into the Forum after crossing the Rubicon and Constantine rode in on this same street after his victory at Milvian Bridge.

The remains of buildings underneath this church date as far back as the first century AD.  Those buildings were replaced in the third century with a large outdoor portico containing several small shops, and after the fall of the Western Roman Empire the structure was again converted, this time into a diaconia and small oratory.  It was finally made into a church in the eleventh century, being consecrated in 1049.  That church faced the opposite direction, its entrance away from the Via Lata.  Around the same time it also came to be used as today's Lenten stational church since the assigned station, the church of St. Cyriacus, had fallen into ruin.

At the end of the fifteenth century that church was again replaced, demolished in 1491 and rebuilt with a reversed orientation so that it faced the Via Lata; this current church was finished and rededicated in 1506.  A major renovation beginning in 1636 gives us most of the church's present appearance, therefore you can see that its architectural style is super baroque.  The current facade was completed between 1658 and 1662.

The relics under the church's high altar belong to the martyrs Ss. Cyriacus and Agapitus, and to the left of the sanctuary in a small side chapel you can find a few monuments and tombs of the Napoleon family.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Monday of Fifth Week: San Crisogono

My friends, we have arrived at the last full week of Lent before Holy Week.  Then it's Easter!  Almost there...  During our Easter Week break from classes I'll be going on retreat to Ars, France, the hometown of St. John Vianney who is the patron saint of diocesan priests.  I'm so pumped!  My agenda, among other things, will include sleeping no less than 10 hours every night.

But let's get started with today's station church:

San Crisogono

Saint Chrysogonus was a fourth century military officer martyred under Diolcetian in 304 in northern Italy near the town of Aquileia.  His popularity quickly grew in Rome, with his name being included in the Roman Canon (the long version of the Eucharistic prayer with all those names in it).  A very early fourth century hall was built on this site -- possibly even before the Edict of Milan in 313 -- with an apse later added on one end.

Remember that the Edict made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire.  But this is significant because some archeologists posit that it was originally built already with the intention of being a place of worship of God in Chrysogonus' honor, which would then make this, and not the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the first purpose-built church in Rome.  I personally find it more fitting that John Lateran was the first, but alas I'm no archeologist.

In any case, this building was used as a church from very early on and lasted until the early twelfth century, as the current church which you see in the photos began construction in 1123.  The columns along the left side of the nave are built over the foundations of the right wall of the original church.  The geometric inlay stonework which you see on the floor dates from this period as well.  It's a style of stonework called 'cosmatesque', and is one of the distinctive characteristics of medieval Italian churches, particularly in and around the city of Rome.

A renovation in 1623 bankrolled by the Borghese family gives us most of the current interior of San Crisogono, except for a few items which were added during the mid-1860s.  My favorite part about this church is the high altar, which besides containing relics of St. Chrysogonus, also contains relics of the Apostle St. James the Greater, who is one of my personal patron saints (along with St. Andrew)!  What a great find!  I'll have to find my way back to this church for sure.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Friday of Fourth Week: Sant' Eusebio

Wow, we've been at this for a while.  Four whole weeks of churches!  Plus the Ash Wednesday half week at the beginning... time has been fuh-lying by, it seems.  But it always feels good to make it to the weekend.  Yahoo!  Today's experience of the station church did not disappoint.  Well what I really mean is, it did not "disappoint".  On our 23rd attempt, mother nature finally decided she would really open up the sky on us, and boy did she let 'er rip.  The celestial announcement went something like this: "Oh you have umbrellas?  lololololololol...".

We made it about 35 minutes scot-free, but in the last ten minutes it rained hard enough to soak me from the bottom up.  By the time we made it to our church, I had two pools in my shoes and waterlogged pants up to my waist.  All the papers in my backpack were in a competition to see which one could absorb the most moisture.  Thank the Lord I left my breviary and laptop at home!  They wouldn't have made it.

Sant' Eusebius

This church is dedicated to a priest and martyr of the Roman church who lived during the fourth century.  Eusebius was associated with all the fun we were talking about yesterday and the Church's first council at Nicea.  Holding fast to the doctrine regarding the divinity of Christ in the tumultuous period following Nicea I, he was condemned to death by starvation in 357 after defending St. Athanasius before the Emperor Constans.  The sentence is believed to have been inflicted by his being locked in his own house, which stood in the spot underneath the current church.

When you walk into this church, on the vaulted ceiling you'll see a large image of St. Eusebius in glory, holding a tablet on which is inscribed the Greek phrase 'homoousion to Patri' ( ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί ).  In English it would be, 'consubstantial with the Father'.  Wait a minute!  You're saying that this phrase we say every Sunday as part of the creed was the product of a Church council way back in 325?  Yup.  Notice that what we pray in church is called the 'Nicene' creed.  Comes from the first Council of Nicea.  Actually, technically the creed of Nicea was in a simpler form.  The creed we pray today comes from the Church's second council at Constantinople in 381 (so its full name is the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. whew!).

But wait another minute, what's going on with these creeds, why is the Church coming up with these things?  Because these were the days of the wild west, my friend!  Lots of people like Arius were running around and teaching things about God which were not true.  And this doesn't just begin in the 300s, it goes back all the way to the beginning, you see even in the writings of St. Paul less than 40 years after the death of Jesus that some people are preaching falsely or acting without the Church's apostolic mandate and confusing or scandalizing people.

So the historical development and clarification of our articles of faith were a product of the Church's need to combat heresy, of needing to say, "No we don't believe that, we believe this.  And in order to stay on the God Squad you gotta hold this (and not that) set of beliefs to be true."  And people went to bat over this, to the point of sacrificing their lives over words?  Oh yeah.  Eusebius went to bat to protect a single letter.  His was the difference between homo(o)usion (one in substance) and homo(i)usion (similar in substance).  Was it really that important?  Well it's the difference between calling Jesus a Great Man and the God-Man, and that is a world of difference.

Sorry I got on a bit of a tangent, I'll stop here, but hopefully you learned a little bit today about the history of all this stuff and the faith which the saints have protected for us by giving up their lives.  That's something to be thankful for!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Thursday of Fourth Week: Santi Silvestro e Martino

So after yesterday's escapade, I didn't know what we might be able to expect today.  If I were thinking straight I would have clipped some more shots of the walk, if only to show you what the heart of Rome looks like.  Yesterday we went almost straight south and didn't really see any of the city itself.  Today we walked east right down the middle and went straight through the ancient Roman forum on our way to the station church.  Alas!  Maybe there will be another over in that direction and I'll make another vid next week.

The nice thing is that today's station church was excellent, which means that for most of Mass I was distracted and looking around at all the pretty and shiny things.  I kept on thinking, "gosh why don't we make churches like this anymore?".  So I'm gonna break my 'two-pictures-only rule' again today.

Santi Silvestro e Martino

This church is named after Pope St. Silvester I (+335) and St. Martin of Tours (+397), although the first place of Christian worship on this site was not associated with either.  It was a house which belonged to a priest named Equitas, and only later was it taken by Pope Silvester and converted into a church (which at the time was named after Equitas).  This church is significant because it was the location for both the preparatory meeting of the Roman clergy -- in which they prepared their written statement of faith for the Church's first council, Nicea I (in 325) -- as well as the subsequent reception and carrying out of the decrees of the council.  Which for them primarily meant destroying all the written copies of the works of a guy named Arius, who was condemned by the council.

Arianism was a heresy in the early Church taught by the priest Arius that denied Jesus' divinity.  His basic idea was that Jesus was created by God the Father.  Consequently, he was neither co-equal nor co-eternal with the Father.  The Church said, "well Arius you really flubbed that one," and condemned Arius' idea as, mmm... unacceptably problematic.  The Council of Nicea defended Jesus' full divinity and full equality with the Father.  Now the happy side of all this is that it gave occasion for the folks in Rome to have a really big Arian bonfire and roast a lot of marshmallows for the whole Roman neighborhood.

Two nearby churches were built in honor of Martin (in the late fifth century) and Silvester ("later" ... my book doesn't say when), which were both replaced with the basilica on this spot by Pope Sergius II (+847).  It was restored extensively in the 16th and 17th centuries which provides the basic look which we see today:
If there's one thing I learned about about photography and movie-making in college which is proved in this picture, it is that LIGHTING IS EVERYTHING.  Proper lighting makes a world of difference.
Underneath the main high altar up there is a confessio which contains the relics of many early martyrs of Rome.  Confessios are awesome, who doesn't love going down into a crypt area and looking around at all the secrets?  We got a chance to check it all out after Mass:
Yup, I was impressed by this church.  Will have to be back some day to see it again.  But that's enough for now, I'm off to bed.  Peace!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wednesday of Fourth Week: St. Paul Outside the Walls

Well, well, well.  Today we conquered the farthest walk of all the station churches, which is the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, so-called because it is located outside the ancient Aurelian walls of the city of Rome.  This church is where the beloved Apostle to the Gentiles is buried, and the church itself is absolutely fantastic.  A brisk morning walk took us from the seminary's gates to the basilica's outer courtyard in a square 60 minutes.

Given the distance, today was our smallest walking group, but we still ended up with about 150 at Mass plus about 40 priests.  So I had a great idea this morning..  Since this one is the doozy as far as distance goes, I decided to record some short clips of our walk through the streets of Rome so you could get a sense of it all.  I even made the video more interesting with soundtrack music!  Enjoy watching:

Saint Paul was killed during the Christian persecutions of Nero in the latter 60s AD. As a Roman citizen, he merited a more dignified manner of death than the cross or the arena, and so at the end of his life he walked the ancient Via Ostiense (which we walked along today to the basilica) to a place now marked by the monastery of Tre Fontane (Three Fountains), and it was there that Paul was beheaded.  His remains were interred in a small roadside tomb the spot of this basilica.

Saint Paul Outside the Walls

The first shrine built onsite was completed by Emperor Constantine before 340 AD, but Paul's popularity with Christian pilgrims soon outgrew the church, so Emperors Valentian II, Theodosius I, and Arcadius built a second, larger church which was dedicated around the year 400.  It was the largest and most architecturally advanced basilica in Rome at the time, and fared well for several centuries until the Saracens invaded Rome in 847 and sacked the basilica.  It was subsequently restored by Pope John VIII and again by Gregory VII, was who elected to the papacy in 1073.

In the high Middle Ages we have two big embellishments:  first is the rear apse mosaic, which was completed around 1220 by Venetian artists at the request of Popes Innocent III and Honorius III.  This might be my favorite apse mosaic in all of Rome.  Second is the baldacchino above the high altar, which comes from the sculptor Arnolfo di Cambio in 1285.  A beautiful piece of work.

Most of the nave was destroyed or heavily damaged when the roof caught fire on the 15th of July 1823.  The restoration and reconstruction of the interior wasn't completed until 1854, and an exterior courtyard was added in 1928 to give the basilica the look you see today.



One of the unique things about St. Paul's is that its walls contain mosaic portraits of the 266 popes who have spanned the entire history of Christianity in an unbroken line from St. Peter to Pope Francis.  That's a lot of portraits!  You can see about 60 of them in the second picture above of the nave: they are all those bright circles above the arched columns.  And actually if you look carefully, you can see more portraits by looking in between the columns at the aisle walls on either side.  The most current popes are all the way up there at the end of the right aisle wall.

Maybe we remember a few famous predictions that the world was supposed to end about three times in 2012?  Well there's a small joke that says the apocalypse won't really come until the very last spot in St. Paul's basilica is filled with a papal portrait.  So the question is, how many blank circles are left in the entire basilica?  Answer... only five!

Francis' portrait was just recently completed, so have a gander:


And I just had to put this last picture up because this is the best sculpture of St. Paul I've ever seen.  It's the absolute best in Rome, and that's no matter of opinion, it's pure science.  You what it is?  It's the hooded robe.  Well, and the sword.  And the beard.  St. Paul, pray for us!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Tuesday of Fourth Week: San Lorenzo in Damaso

Here we come Tuesday!  Today is the day that we're meeting our fourth church dedicated to St. Lawrence.  This one began under the patronage of Pope St. Damasus (+384) who during his papacy converted the hall of his home into a church in honor of the martyr deacon.  The original basilica had roughly the same orientation as the present one.  St. Damasus' home was located near the stables that housed one of the chariot teams of ancient Rome (the 'Green' team) and so back in his day this church was also called St. Lawrence in Prasino (prasino being the Latin word for 'leek green').
San Lorenzo in Damaso

This church survived without much additional adornment or renovation until the fifteenth century when the new papal chancellery was built on this site.  They demolished the original basilica to make way for the new building, but a replacement church was included in the new building design, so this is one of the few station churches we'll see that does not have any 'original' portions of the first church that remain to the present day.  It's also why you might very well pass by this church without even knowing you're seeing one!  The exterior entrance looks like any other entrance to a random building in the city.

The chancellery and church were finished by the early sixteenth century in 1511.  It was damaged a few times, particularly during the Napoleonic occupation of Rome in 1798 and in a fire in 1939.  But the current interior is largely due to two major renovations that took place in 1807-1820 and then again in 1868-1882.  So if you want to see textbook nineteenth century sacred art and architecture, this is the place for you!  In the high altar are buried Ss. Damasus and Eutyches.


We were able to walk through Piazza Navona this morning since it was on our way to school, so I took a shot of this wide open space that is especially beautiful and relatively tourist-free.  The large sculpture in the center of this piazza is the work of Bernini, and the church you see if Sant' Agnese in Agone (St. Agnes in Agony):

Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday of Fourth Week: Santi Quattro Coronati

Well after this weekend, my bracket is officially busted.  Blast...  Heartbreaking that both state teams went down the same day.  Can't dwell on it too much or it'll ruin my day!  In other news, a quick note that I bought my plane ticket home yesterday.  So it's official, June 13th I'll be back in the Mitten!  Woot woot!  Now onto regularly scheduled programming.

Santi Quattro Coronati

Today we had a bit of a surprise at the church of the Four Crowned Saints.  Italy lags a bit behind the States, so we just 'sprung forward' last weekend.  Nice that we have some extended daylight in the evenings now, but we're back to walking in the dark to our daily station church.  I think today's church may have been our farthest walk yet; Four Saints is located just a bit beyond the basilica of San Clemente, which is already way out past the Colosseum.

So when we arrived at this old church, we discovered there was a power outage in that neighborhood of the city because no lights were on.  Since it was still before sunrise, the church was lit up with candles instead.  I believe the hip description for that would be, "rustic and vintage".  Actually it was really cool, it's a very different atmosphere in the candlelight.
Digital cameras have a really hard time taking low light pictures.  That top one is about how dark it was when I walked in, but the window light in the sanctuary is overexposed in the picture, so imagine a more subdued twilight coming through instead.  I sat down in the back and took a long shutter shot of the sanctuary, so the second pic much brighter than real life, but you can get an idea of the space.

The story of this church's title actually comes from two groups of folks.  Both groups were martyrs during the Roman persecutions (like practically every other church we've seen!).  The first group were four soldiers, Severus Victorinus, Carpophorus, and Severinus, who refused to take part in pagan worship and were killed for this in the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletian.  The second group was made up of five stonemasons, Claudius, Nicostratus, Sempronianus, Castor, and Simplicius, who were put to death for their refusal to carve a statue of the god Asclepius which would be used for pagan worship.

The oldest parts of the current building come from the fourth century.  Around the 630 Pope Honorius I dedicated the first church on this site, which was restored by Pope Hadrian I in the late eighth century.  A century later Pope Leo IV undertook a more complete rebuilding and placed the relics of many martyrs in a crypt beneath the main altar, including those of the four soldiers and the five stonemasons.

Along with many other building in the area, this church sustained heavy damage during the Norman invasion of 1084, so Pope Paschal II rebuilt the church, retaining the previous apse but making the new nave markedly smaller; he consecrated it in 1116.  In 1560 Augustinian nuns took up residence here, where they have remained up to the present day.  The apse fresco comes from the 1620s, which was the last major renovation / redecoration of this church.  Beneath the apse fresco are additional frescoes that depict the suffering, death, and burial of the soldiers and stonemasons.  One other random fact: the skull of St. Sebastian is found in a small niche above the altar on the left side of the sanctuary (the one you always see depicted in art tied to a pole with arrows shot into his body).
 You walk through two courtyards to get to this church.  The inner courtyard used to be part of the nave before it was rebuilt.  Walking out was a nice view of the sunlight coming through the entrance, and a nice shot of the cloister facade that is attached to this church.